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What would the Lib Dems do in a hung parliament?

February 5th, 2007

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    Would Ming’s party be better off rejecting both suitors?

(This is part of an article I wrote for CONtinuityIDS this morning about a hung parliament and what I think might happen if Labour just squeeze ahead on seats even though they are far behind on votes. My starting point was the CON 39%: LAB 33%: LD 22%: OTH 6% in the previous thread producing this Commons outcome – LAB 284: CON 283: LD 54: OTH 29.)

My reading of Brown is that the situations where he is least happy are when he has to be a supplicant. He cannot bear putting himself in a situation where his overtures could get rejected. That’s why he waited for a near certainty to come up before daring to run for a parliamentary seat, why becoming Labour leader without a serious battle is so important to him and why he will be a terrible fundraiser for his party.

For the Lib Dems this would be a challenging situation. Paddy Ashdown still bears the scars from his “deal” with Tony Blair after 1997. There are a lot of Liberals about who will recall that the party got next to nothing for propping the Callaghan government up in its dying days prior to 1979. Labour’s failure to take PR forward in the 97-01 parliament, even though it was in their manifesto, is still remembered. With Gordon not being a natural asker and a quarter of a century of history then its hard to see Ming buying a Labour offer if indeed there was one.

    I also think that Labour would make it a whole lot worse for themselves by appearing as though they take the Lib Dems for granted.

The Labour assumption that most makes the blood of Lib Dems boil is they have the monopoly of being anti-Tory and the LDs have just to follow on behind or else they will get the blame for letting in the dreaded Tories. Ill-thought out comments by a leading Labour front-bencher at the wrong time could scupper everything.

For an offer by the Tories or Labour requires a language and rhetoric by the asking party that is highly sensitive and I could see Cameron doing a much better job in that area.

But could the Tories offer a deal that is acceptable?
The most powerful argument that I think would resonate would be the election result itself. Some form of arrangement that saw the Lib Dems voting with the Tories on the Queen’s Speech would be putting right what the electoral system had got so badly wrong in the General Election. The result would have been a massive injustice – the Lib Dems would merely be correcting that.

That would be quite tough for the Lib Dems to buy
especially as the social authoritarian strain of Conservatism combined with the approach on immigration that Michael Howard sought to articulate still make the Tories appear to be the “nasty” party. It is also hard to see how Cameron could move much more to create a proposition that was acceptable to the Lib Dems without causing splits on the right.

My guess is that Prime Minister Brown who would announce that Labour would carry on as a minority government. He would effectively be daring the other parties to combine and vote his minority administration down in the Queen’s Speech debate that would follow. This gamble would prove costly.

Without any formal agreement between the Lib Dems and the Tories Brown’s Labour would be voted down. Cameron would then seek to form a minority Government which would, in its first programme, offer enough to keep the Lib Dems on board without there being a formal deal.

Cameron would probably quite like such an outcome – having to win support of the Lib Dems and others on every issue. It would keep the “fruitcakes” in his party under control and he could stay in power long enough to choose an election day when the Tories could win.

Such a government might not be good for Simon Heffer’s blood pressure but it would make politics very interesting.


Mike Smithson






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